Neerja Bhanot | Braves By their Broken Hearts!

Imagine if you are flying in the sky in an aeroplane and suddenly came to know that your flight has been hijacked! What will you do? There is a life-jacket and parachute in front of you... Luckily, you are just beside of Emergency Exit. Will you jump? We obviously decide to do the same in this situation.. But this lady risked her own life and decided to save other passengers. Her eventual death made her a Brave Heart! She is Neerja Bhanot, the first Indian Woman to receive 'Ashoka Chakra', a highest civilian award for her self-less sacrifice...

Neerja Bhanot | Biographical Sketch
  • Bhanot was born in Chandigarh, India, and brought up in Bombay (present-day Mumbai) in a Punjabi family.
  • She began her modelling career in the city of Bombay.
  • She was a huge fan of actor Rajesh Khanna and used to refer to quotes from his films throughout her life.
  • Bhanot applied for a flight attendant job with Pan Am in 1985 when it decided to have an all Indian cabin crew for its Frankfurt to India routes.
  • Upon selection, she went to Miami, Florida for training as a flight attendant, but returned as a purser (a person responsible for passengers' money on board).
  • She also had a successful modelling career simultaneously during her work at Pan Am.
  • Bhanot was the Senior Flight Purser on Pan Am Flight 73 flying from Bombay to the United States, which was hijacked by four armed men on 5 September 1986 at Karachi airport in Pakistan.
  • The aircraft was carrying 380 passengers and 13 crew members.
  • The terrorists wanted to fly to Cyprus with the goal of freeing Palestinian prisoners in Cyprus.
  • Bhanot was able to alert the cockpit crew as soon as the hijackers boarded the plane, and as the plane was on the tarmac, the three-member cockpit crew of pilot, co-pilot and the flight engineer fled from the aircraft through an overhead hatch in the cockpit.
  • As the senior-most cabin crew member, Bhanot took charge of the situation inside the plane.
  • The hijackers were part of the Abu Nidal Organization, a Palestinian terrorist organization backed by Libya.
  • They were targeting Americans and American assets. In the early minutes of the hijacking, they identified an Indian-American citizen, dragged him to the exit, shot him dead and threw his body onto the Cabin.

  • The terrorists then instructed Bhanot to collect the passports of all the passengers so that they could identify the other Americans on board.
  • She and the other attendants under her charge hid the passports of the remaining 43 Americans on board, some under a seat and the rest down a rubbish chute so that the hijackers could not differentiate between American and non-American passengers.
  • After 17 hours, the hijackers opened fire and set off explosives. Bhanot opened one of the airplane doors, and started helping the other passengers escape.  
  • If she wanted, like the other cabin crew on board, she could have been the first one to jump out and escape from the aircraft when she opened the door, but she decided not to and instead started helping the other passengers escape.
  • According to a surviving passenger, "She was guiding the passengers to the emergency exit. That is when the terrorists were firing constantly fearing a commando attack. They saw Neerja relentlessly trying to help the passengers out and that is when they caught her by her ponytail and shot her point blank."
  • Out of a total of 44 American passengers, two were killed during the hijacking. A child on board, then aged seven, is now a captain for a major airline and has stated that Bhanot has been his inspiration, and that he owes every day of his life to her.
  • She was recognized internationally as "the heroine of the hijacking" and became the youngest recipient of the Ashok Chakra Award, India's most prestigious gallantry award for bravery during peacetime.
  • She is the youngest recipient and the first woman recipient of this award.
  • In 2004 the Indian Postal Service released a stamp commemorating her.


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